E. Bay clothier, WWII refugee Jill Shulster, 80, dies

The fireworks started for Joseph Shulster well before nightfall on that July Fourth weekend back in 1949.

A widower, the Fifth Avenue men’s clothier, had dropped his two small children off at camp and had ventured off to the Catskills on his first getaway since his wife’s death a year earlier. Strolling down for breakfast on his first morning, Shulster asked for a table of his own.

“So sorry, we don’t have a single table,” the maitre d’ informed Shulster, pointing to a group table that he could join.

That’s when Shulster spotted the dazzling blonde already seated. “That was it,” said daughter Terry Naylor Friedkin of Berkeley. “They got engaged in two days.”

Married that Halloween, Joseph and Jill Shulster went on to enjoy 53 years of marriage and a collaborative career in the clothing business.

A native of Germany who escaped to Israel on a children’s transport in 1939, Jill Shulster died in her Walnut Creek home on Sunday, Nov. 2 at age 80. Her husband preceded her, dying this past August at 99.

For hundreds of East Bay shoppers, the Shulsters were known as the proprietors of LaContessa clothing store in downtown Oakland. “My dad always called my mom Miss America or the Countess,” said Friedkin, explaining the derivation of the store’s name.

Jill Shulster was the store’s buyer and always dressed impeccably. “She was really loved by her customers. People liked to get her fashion advice,” said Friedkin.

Though modest and rather shy, Jill Shulster (born Gisela Scheyer) was glamorous to the core, even in some unexpected settings.

After attending agriculture school in Jerusalem, Shulster signed up in Israel with the Jewish women’s division of the British army. “She was trained as a mechanic and a driver,” said Friedkin. “Here’s this Ingrid Bergman-type person doing oil changes and maintenance on trucks.”

In 1949, she joined her mother and brother, who had escaped Germany and wound up in New York. She met her husband later that year.

In 1960, the couple moved to California, settling in Orinda and becoming active members of Lafayette’s Temple Isaiah. They closed their shop in 1975 and retired to Rossmoor.

In addition to Friedkin, Shulster is survived by children Stan Shulster of Ashland, Ore., and Joyce Pustilnik of New York City, and four granddaughters.

Donations may be made to Berkeley Hillel Foundation, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704, or a Hillel of your choice.